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Silver Years Ballet raises the barre for local exercise classes in Bishop's Stortford and Sawbridgeworth

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Twinkle-toed retired folk are benefitting body and soul from a series of weekly ballet classes, held in Bishop's Stortford and Sawbridgeworth.

Silver Years Ballet was launched by Carrie Johnson, 52, in February 2015. The classes started at Church House in Sawbridgeworth and, six months later, the Stortford classes were established at Parsonage Lane Community Hall. These take place every Friday afternoon from 1.30pm. Classes also take place in Stanstead Abbots, Ware, Hoddesdon and Harlow.

Carrie, who lives in Stansted Mountfitchet, works in London for a team of financial advisors. She set up the gentle exercise sessions as a means to help her 72-year-old mother, Veronica.

Dance Tutor Melissa Douglas takes the ladies through their paces. Picture: Vikki Lince
Dance Tutor Melissa Douglas takes the ladies through their paces. Picture: Vikki Lince

"She was getting to that age where everything was getting a bit stiff," said Carrie.

"I began the classes to help my mum find a way to exercise without it being strenuous on hips and knees."

Though Carrie had never been a ballerina herself - she had instead done gymnastics as a youngster - her daughter Romy, 26, inspired her with her love of dance. The primary school teacher started taking ballet lessons when she was a three-year-old and continued until she was 18.

Romy is the eldest of Carrie's six children. She attended Herts and Essex High School, the same as her younger sisters Tia, 18, and Emia, 16, while 10-year-old Imari, a Spellbook Primary School pupil, hopes to start at the Warwick Road secondary next September. Carrie's two sons, Kane, 25, and Shanley, 23, are both alumni of The Bishop's Stortford High School.

In February, Romy gave birth to daughter Cara Kate, who sometimes makes cameo appearances at the Silver Years Ballet classes. To this day, Romy acts as her mother's ballet advisor and guest teacher.

Veronica also continues to attend the Silver Years Ballet classes in Sawbridgeworth. She enjoys them so much, she has set up a ballet studio inside her summer house.

And Veronica is not the only one who looks forward to her weekly sessions - Carrie's team of three teachers welcome between eight and 10 dancers to each one of their classes, six of which are held every week.

Carrie said: "We always supply tea, coffee and biscuits after the lessons - we really want the lesson to not only be about exercise but as a means of helping our students to make new friendships.

"They enjoy having the friendship as much as they enjoy having the exercise."

The Silver Years ballerinas are a varied bunch, with ages ranging from women in their early 50s to those in their late 80s, and there is a broad range of abilities. "We have people who have never ever done any types of ballet before and others who have danced before," said Carrie.

There is no competitive element involved - there are never any gradings or exams, just sessions for attendees to improve their flexibility, balance and posture.

Ballet also provides a workout for the mind. In 2003, research published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that dancing can reduce the onset of dementia.

Ballerinas must memorise routines to music, so dance is seen as viable therapy because it simultaneously combines physical and cognitive stimulation.

"I never wanted it to be a class just to get fit, I wanted it to be something a bit more," said Carrie.

The Silver Years Ballet team are always eager to welcome new members. If you are interested in joining, visit www.facebook.com/SilverYearsBallet, call Carrie on 07505 708528 or email silveryearsballet@hotmail.com.

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